“Selfish assholes, this neighborhood hates you.”
Those words were written in permanent marker on a reserved parking sign for Critical Solutions International. In an April 7 police report, an employee said someone had vandalized five of the reserved parking signs outside the company's Cumberland Street office.
According to the report, several downtown residents' cars had been booted for parking in the reserved spots on weekends, "thus causing many individuals to become irate." In defense of Critical Solutions International, the employees do need somewhere to park — especially when they work weekends.
In the next few years, parking skirmishes like this one are only going to become more common. With a development boom well underway, city officials estimate that the population on the peninsula, currently about 35,000, will grow by 25,000 in the next 15 years. How are those newcomers going to move around on narrow and already-crowded downtown streets — and where are they going to park? The Historic Charleston Foundation hosted a meeting last week to talk about pressing transportation issues. Here are a few hot spots that were mentioned:
1. Visitor Center parking garage (Meeting and Wragg streets):
PeopleMatter, a software company with an office on King Street, leases spaces in this garage for employee parking, and the company is about to add 50 more employees. Where are they going to park during peak tourist season, when cars already pack the garage to the roof?
2. Burns Alley:
Downtown Charleston has some exceedingly narrow streets that aren't going to get any wider, making it hard to add bike lanes and turn lanes. Even the four-lane streets are only 44 feet wide, meaning skittish drivers going the same direction are often unable (or unwilling) to pass each other.
3. First bike corral (in front of Blue Bicycle Books, 420 King St.):
As a general rule, merchants want to keep as much on-street car parking as they can, so eliminating parking spots to create bike lanes is a nonstarter. A study conducted by the Gibbs Planning Group found that each on-street parking spot in a Charleston retail district generates about $250,000 a year in retail revenue. But Blue Bicycle owner Jonathan Sanchez actually pushed for the city to eliminate a parking space in front of his store and turn it into bike parking.
4. Ashley River Bridge:
After protracted debate, the city is closing a lane of car traffic to add a bicycle and pedestrian lane to the eastbound bridge that connects West Ashley to the peninsula. One internal survey at MUSC, a major employer on the peninsula, found that 500 employees saw safe passage over the Ashley as an obstacle for commuting to work on a bike.
5. Intersection of Coming & Calhoun streets:
During fall and spring semesters at the College of Charleston, this intersection is notorious for being clogged with pedestrian traffic. Several years ago, there was some talk about installing diagonal crosswalks to alleviate the congestion, but city planners decided it wasn't an effective solution. "We'll continue to look at other methods of restricting turns at Calhoun and Coming, and some others on St. Philip Street," said Traffic and Transportation Director Hernan Peña.
6. Bridge to Nowhere (Mechanic and Petty streets):
Before the Great Recession, the city used $9.8 million worth of tax increment financing to build this bridge, banking on the arrival of a new development called Magnolia that was supposed to be built on former industrial land at the northern end. The developer never built it, the land lay fallow for years, and the bridge went nowhere. Now a new owner, Mead Westvaco, is trying to develop the property again, leading to renewed talks about improving infrastructure in the area and beautifying the I-26 gateway to the city.
7. Intersection of Mt. Pleasant and Meeting streets:
A recent development plan from the Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Chamber of Governments (BCDCOG) proposes building a roundabout at this intersection, making for a more scenic gateway to the city. The plan also calls for increased pedestrian access and mixed-use development in the area. Read more at neckprosperity.org.
8. Lowcountry Lowline:
Some bike advocates are pushing for local governments to purchase an abandoned rail line and convert it into a trail between Mt. Pleasant Street and Woolfe Street. Tom Bradford, who sits on the Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline board, says the first order of business is negotiating a purchase price with Norfolk Southern, which still owns the strip of land. Another plan being discussed, but with even fewer details? Light rail service from the suburbs to downtown Charleston, which will divert commuter traffic from I-26.
9. Kitchen 208 (208 King St.):
When Charming Inns opened this restaurant last year, they turned the small private parking lot next door into patio dining. City planners predict that tiny surface lots like these will start to disappear as property values keep rising, meaning we'll have a smaller supply of parking spots at the same time as demand increases. Translation: Parking is about to get more expensive.
Here's a little math, courtesy of Charleston Moves Executive Director Tom Bradford: Assuming a ratio of just one car per two new residents on the peninsula, 12,500 more cars will be hunting for parking spaces within the next 15 years. At an average parking space size of 325 square feet, that means we'll need 70 football fields' worth of new parking by 2030 just for residents — not to mention tourists.